Journeying East: Spiritual Sanctuary in the Orthodox Church – Forrest Long, USA





Alabama, USA


Journeying East:

Spiritual Sanctuary in the Orthodox Church

by Forrest Long, USA




The pungent aroma of incense fills the air. In the dim candle light, smoke ascends high toward the domed ceiling and, as the eye follows its upward spiral, one can imagine gazing into heaven itself. The architecture, the icons, the aroma, the awesome silence — the sensory perception of all that surrounds you transports you into another world. No, this is not your typical Baptist church, far from it.

So what is a Baptist pastor with over twenty-five years of ministry doing in a Russian Orthodox chapel? The male choir is in place and the priest comes out to begin the evening liturgy of vespers, all in Church Slavonic, the language of the “old country.” Not a word is understood as I listen intently to the progression of the liturgy, yet deep in my soul there is a sense that I have entered heaven itself. For an hour and a half the service continues and no one seems to mind standing through it, even the frail old monks who have experienced this for a lifetime.

This was my first experience of an Orthodox vespers and it was a life-changing experience, an affirmation that I was on the right path.

Going back to the question, what was I as a Baptist minister doing in a Russian Orthodox vesper service at Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville, New York?

And why over the past several decades have so many evangelicals in North America made the journey to the Eastern Orthodox Church?

I have read the personal pilgrimage of others, Peter Gillquist, Frederica Mathewes-Green, Jaroslav Pelikan and others, but I can only write out of my own experience.

As I look back now over my training in preparation for ministry I realize I learned nothing about the Eastern Orthodox Church; as I have talked with other Protestant ministers, for the most part their knowledge runs between minimal and non-existent. If I were asked I suppose I would have said that it was some ancient Eastern form of the Church, just another denomination but comparable to the Roman Catholic Church. The architecture and vestments may have been different, but apart from that I knew nothing about it. To be honest, its existence probably never crossed my mind. But other things did and that is where the journey began.

Coming out of ministerial preparation and being thrust into pastoral ministry, I was an idealist filled with answers, cutting-edge techniques and right theology. I was ready to ignite my first church with new life.

The early 70’s was a time of change in the church. New winds were blowing. Contemporary theology was challenging how we thought about God and the church; charismatic teaching and practice were challenging how we worshiped and “did” church; the “Jesus movement” was challenging the church to a more vibrant life. Changes were coming in worship, early stirrings that have led to where we are in the contemporary worship scene today.

As a pastor, part of my responsibility was to give leadership in worship; the more I read about and viewed the changing scene, the more I was coming to understand that modern worship could be just about anything you want it to be, just about anything was pleasing to God.

The walls were being pushed outward, sometimes beyond the limits in the minds of an older generation who sometimes were resistant to change. But the doors of change were open and a new contemporary breeze was blowing in, perceived by many as salvation for churches in decline that were running out of ideas of how to attract the un-churched.

During these early years of my ministry I began to broaden my reading as I focused on the church and on worship. I came across the writings of Robert Webber, who opened a new door for me and challenged me with a whole new perspective on worship and the church. It was a challenge to look beyond the familiar, not to discredit the old, even ancient forms of Christian worship, expressed in various liturgies.

I was a novice in this area, being immersed in the simplicity of non-liturgical Baptist worship. Slowly I began to open my thinking to a form of worship that was so rich with meaning and theological depth.

As a “good Protestant,” I had always considered such worship as being “too Roman Catholic.” In searching, I came to see the depth of my prejudice and my bias toward one particular form of worship, a perspective which would change gradually over time.

About the same time I read a book by another author previously unknown to me, Peter Gillquist. In The Physical Side Of Being Spiritual, Gillquist, who was himself on a spiritual quest that would eventually lead him into the Antiochian Orthodox Church, pushed my inquisitive door open a bit wider. He challenged me to think deeper about worship in its physical forms and symbols and challenged me to explore spirituality from a perspective previously unknown to me. The journey continued.

Over my years of ministry, as I sought to give spiritual leadership to the congregations I served, I was at the same time on my own spiritual pilgrimage. Many times I was uncertain of where I was going, but I kept pushing doors and exploring different pathways. As I looked around me at contemporary church life, I was disheartened by the all too-visible “easy-believism” and “cheap grace” that Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote so disparagingly about in his Cost Of Discipleship.

I came to realize that the church was so often a follower of trends and “here-today-gone-tomorrow” ideas on methodology, ministry, worship, church growth and spirituality. Everyone seemed to have their own concept of the “New Testament Church,” resulting in a dizzying array of books and programs offering the answer.

Sadly I watched as many well-meaning, but I believe misdirected leaders divided churches (yes, often Baptist churches) and went off with a handful of followers to build their own version of “the New Testament Church.”

My quest was never an obsession, but always in my field of vision as I read and thought in areas of worship, personal spiritual development and the church. I always believed there had to be answers to my questions. I never thought that those answers would take me back beyond the Reformation and my divided Protestant heritage, to a time when the church spoke with one voice. I began reading some of the early church documents as well as writings of the early Church Fathers, all of which opened a whole new world to me.

Time moved on. It was not until the late 90’s, after twenty-five years of pastoral ministry, that I was introduced to the Eastern Orthodox Church. One Sunday morning before worship, one of our couples came through the door with a friend who was visiting for the first time.

The introductions were made and there before me stood an imposing and impressive gentleman about my age, but with a long flowing, graying beard and long hair, dressed in a “ministerial” black suit. I had no idea at the time that he was a Russian Orthodox priest and I couldn’t see the clerical collar under his beard. He appeared to be intently interested in our worship and to my surprise remained after the service to join in my Sunday School class.

I was teaching a series of studies on the spiritual disciplines and happened that morning to be teaching on the discipline of prayer. Here I was, the “expert” with all the answers. My class was very interactive and discussion played a key role in the learning process.

Our guest felt very comfortable to enter into the discussion, and I discovered as I listened to him that here was a man with an understanding of our topic that ran deeper than the level at which I was teaching that morning. I found that my heart was hungering for a deeper experience of the spirituality of prayer and here was someone I wanted to get to know better. It was only after the morning was over that I was told this visitor, a quiet and unassuming man who displayed a sense of deep spirituality, was Father Innocent, a Russian Orthodox priest.

The friendship that developed out of this initial encounter led to many visits to his home, times of question and discussion, good conversation that gently nudged me toward the Orthodox Church.

Never once did I ever hear him criticize the Baptist church or put down my theology or practice. But gradually and gently he led me far beyond where I was. I would come home with a book to read, an Orthodox magazine or some article he felt I would find interesting.

My questions were being answered, the issues were being diffused and in the depth of my soul I knew I was on the right path. But it took moving from Nova Scotia to Birmingham, Alabama to actually become Orthodox.

In 2005 at Pascha, I was chrismated into the Antiochian Orthodox Church at the Church of the Annunciation, under the spiritual leadership of Father Nabil Fino, who brought me as a catechumen into the Church. From Father Innocent to Father Nabil, God has graciously led me step by step into the Church.

There was a time when I was so theologically opinionated and narrow in my views, that I wouldn’t have given a thought about moving toward the Eastern Orthodox Church. In my Protestant frame of mind I wouldn’t exercise such freedom. God does work in mysterious ways.

Today, in the Eastern Orthodox Church, my questions have found answers and I have discovered a well-grounded, unchanging liturgy, theology and spirituality that have stood the tests of time, being rooted in the Apostles, the Early Church Fathers, the Desert Fathers and Mothers, as well as the saints through the ages. The rich spiritual heritage of the various forms of the Eastern Orthodox Church enrich my soul, as I have come to understand and appreciate those ancient forms that are so spiritually relevant for our world today.

My journey has led me to a true spiritual sanctuary.

Episcopalian Minister & Congregation Convert in Frederick, Maryland, USA


Episcopalian Minister & Congregation Convert

in Frederick, Maryland, USA


Episcopalian Minister and Congregation Convert


It appears the fruits of St. John of San Francisco’s labors have paid off. After a year of instruction and a prayer, an Episcopalian clergymen and many from his congregation entered the Orthodox Church. While the members of the congregation became Orthodox Christians in April, their former minister was ordained to the Holy Priesthood a little over a week ago.

The now Fr. James Hamrick is pastor of St. John the Baptist Orthodox Church in Frederick, MD. He was a minister in the United Methodist Church for years, but as he was looking for ancient faith, he found himself in the Charismatic Episcopal Church for a few years. At least until now. The CEC underwent a major rupture, causing the bishop who ordained Fr. Hamrick to question the notion of Protestantism altogether.

He said, he “believed that God’s authority was not only found in the Scriptures, as he felt Protestant churches emphasized, but also in the apostolic succession and sacred traditions.”

This invariably led him to Orthodoxy.

In keeping with the authentic, ancient liturgical and spiritual traditions of the Orthodox West, the new converts opted to be Western Orthodox. What does that look like? It resembles what an old Tridentine Roman Catholic Liturgy would look like, but in English. There are many variations to how Western Orthodox celebrate their liturgy (in many WO churches, they use the term ‘Mass’).For example, there is the Divine Liturgy of St. Ambrose which some use, as well as the Divine Liturgy of St. Gregory the Great (which resembles the ancient Pre-Vatican II Catholic Liturgy, but in English) and the Divine Liturgy of St. Tikhon, which is similar to the Anglican Book of Common prayer.

All of these have been slightly modified to conform to Orthodox doctrine, such as deleting the Filioque clause from the Creed and commemorating Orthodox Bishops. These Western Orthodox Christians keep to the same spiritual heritage as was seen in the West before the Schism between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches. Will his conversion influence other Protestant clergy to bring their flocks to the historic Church? Time will tell.

It will be interesting to see if disillusioned Episcopalians, Methodists and Lutherans convert en masse to Orthodoxy, given the fact that both denominations now support homosexual clergy (with the United Methodist Church pursuing full communion with the Episcopalians, who passed similar measures recently), after an agreement of full communion was signed between the two last week.

The parishioners of St. John the Baptist have remodeled an old church to make it acceptable for Western Orthodox worship.A total of 26 people were received into the Orthodox Church, with other Orthodox supporting them. Today, Fr. Hamrick celebrated his first liturgy as an Orthodox priest. May God grant him and his parishioners many years!

Why children lose their faith in God? – Fr. Sergius Chetverikov, Washington, USA


Why children lose their faith in God?

Fr. Sergius Chetverikov, Washington, USA



Before answering that question, I want to say a few words to those who assert that one should not “impose” religious beliefs on children.

Religious faith cannot be imposed upon a person. It is not something extraneous to a person, but rather an essential, necessary requirement of human nature, the principal content of a person’s inner life.

When we take care to see that a child should grow up truthful, kind, when we nurture within him a proper understanding of beauty, taste for excellence, we do not impose upon him something alien or contrary to his nature; we merely help him to extricate him from himself, as it were to take him out of diapers and allow him to perceive for himself those attributes and impulses that are entirely characteristic of the human soul.

The same must be said about apprehension of God.

Following the principle of not imposing anything on the child’s soul, we would have to entirely refuse to participate in the child’s development and strengthening of his spiritual powers and abilities. We would leave him entirely to himself until he grows up and distinguishes between what he should and Continue reading “Why children lose their faith in God? – Fr. Sergius Chetverikov, Washington, USA”

Cerșetorul Japonez a devenit Călugăr ╰⊰¸¸.•¨* Romanian


Cerșetorul Japonez a devenit Călugăr

As vrea sa va dau un mic exemplu de activi­tate misionara. Noi avem un mic metoc in New York. El este asezat intr-o parte foarte saraca a ora­sului, unde traiesc in general vorbitori de spaniola si afroamericani; de jur imprejur droguri, alcool, oameni fara adapost. Cred ca jumatate din popu­latia zonei traieste din alocatiile statului. Pentru adolescenti, in aceasta zona, sa nasti un copil la 14-15 ani este un motiv de deosebita mandrie. Nu, nu sa ai grija de acest copil, ci pur si simplu sa il nasti. De aceea, in cadrul acestei populatii, foarte putini vad pentru ei anumite perspective in viata. La fiecare al doilea colt de strada se afla o biserica romano-catolica sau protestanta, o sinagoga si asa mai departe, toate goale.

In fata casei noastre este o mica adancitura, pe care noi o numim fantana. Aceasta exista pentru a se putea ajunge prin ea la subsol. Odata, pe la mijlocul lui februarie, ningea cu ploaie si era frig. Deodata, printre tomberoanele de gunoi pe care, de asemenea, le tinem in acest put, am auzit un zgomot. Eu m-am gandit ca, asa cum se intampla deseori, vreun cersetor scormoneste in gunoiul nostru si cauta sticle goale. Eu nu sunt impotriva ca cersetorii sa stranga sticle goale, dar ei, de obicei, arunca peste tot gunoiul care le cade in mana, si aceasta nu am vrut s-o permit.

Asadar, deschid usa si vad in fata mea un om cu infatisare asiatica. Il intreb:

– Ce faci?

– Iertati-ma, va rog, raspunde el, caut si eu ceva de mancare.

– Pai, de ce scormonesti in gunoi? Haidem in casa!

– Nu-nu, nu pot, zice el, sunt murdar tot si mi­ros urat.

– Haide-haide, ii zic eu.

In timpul scurtei conversatii, i-am povestit ca noi avem o incapere in care poate face dus, isi poa­te schimba hainele si poate manca.

Omul s-a speriat:

– Ce vrei de la mine? Pentru ce faci toate astea?

Eu zic:

– Nu vreau sa imi arunci gunoiul in prag. Atat si nimic mai mult.

Dupa ce a mancat, m-am asezat langa el si a inceput discutia. Parea un om destul de destept. L-am intrebat:

– Unde locuiesti?

– Niciunde.

– Adica nu ai unde?

– Ei, zice el, in fiecare noapte faceam curat intr-un restaurant japonez, si ei imi dadeau voie sa locuiesc la ei la subsol.

– Dar cum ai ajuns fara adapost?

Si el mi-a povestit ca era inginer si ca a venit din Japonia. La inceput, lucrurile i-au mers foarte bine, dar apoi a inceput sa fie atras de droguri, co­caina, heroina, si in scurt timp a pierdut tot.

Eu i-am propus sa ramana la noi.

– O, nu, nu pot, a raspuns el.

– Dar de ce?

– Pentru ca eu caut adevarul! a spus omul.

Eu zic:

– Nu trebuie sa mergi nicaieri, adevarul este aici!

– Toti zic asa, a raspuns el. Am fost la catolici, la mormoni, la martorii lui Iehova, la iudei, la budisti. Toti promit unul si acelasi lucru, dar nu dau nimic.

– Bine, zic eu, totusi, mai ramai putin!…

Si a ramas sa stea la noi cateva zile. Am ince­put sa discutam. Apoi el s-a botezat si l-am numit in cinstea Sfantului Nicolae al Japoniei. Acum s-a intors deja in Japonia si a primit acolo calugaria intr-o manastire ortodoxa. Dar totul a inceput pen­tru el cu faptul ca noi i-am dat posibilitatea sa devina o parte din obste, ca i-am ingaduit sa vietuias­ca impreuna cu noi. El a vazut Evanghelia inainte de a o auzi sau de a o citi.


(Schiarhimandrit Ioachim Parr, Convorbiri pe pământ rusesc, Editura Egumenita, 2015)


Μοναχός Νικόλαος: Ο Ιάπωνας άστεγος της Νέας Υόρκης που έγινε Ορθόδοξος Μοναχός στην Ιαπωνία


Μοναχός Νικόλαος:

Ο Ιάπωνας άστεγος της Νέας Υόρκης που έγινε

Ορθόδοξος Μοναχός στην Ιαπωνία

Θα ήθελα να δώσω ένα μικρό παράδειγμα ποιμαντικής δραστηριότητας. Εμείς έχουμε ένα μικρό μετόχι στην Νέα Υόρκη. Βρίσκεται σε μία πολύ φτωχή συνοικία της πόλης όπου ζουν κυρίως ισπανόφωνοι και μαύροι: Παντού ναρκωτικά, αλκοόλ, άστεγοι. Πίστευω πως πάνω από τους μισούς κατοίκους της περιοχής ζουν από τα επιδόματα του κράτους.

Για τους εφήβους της περιοχής το να γεννήσεις ένα παιδί στα 14-15 σου χρόνια είναι λόγος να υπερηφανεύεσαι. Όχι να το φροντίζεις, απλώς να το γεννήσεις. Γι᾽ αυτό πολλοί λίγοι ατενίζουν το μέλλον με κάποια προοπτική. Σε κάθε δεύτερη γωνία θα βρεις μία Ρωμαιοκαθολική ή Προτεσταντική εκκλησία, μία συναγωγη, αλλά όλες είναι άδειες.

Μπροστά από το οίκημά μας βρίσκεται ένα βαθούλωμα, το οποίο εμείς ονομάζουμε “πηγάδι”. Χρησιμεύει για να κατέβεις σ’ένα υπόγειο μέρος. Μία φορά, μέσα Φεβρουαρίου ήταν, έριχνε χιονόνερο και έκανε κρύο. Ξαφνικά ανάμεσα στους κάδους των σκουπιδιών, που επίσης βρίσκονται σε αυτό το βαθούλωμα, άκουσα ένα θόρυβο. Σκέφτηκα πως κάποιος ζητιάνος ψάχνει μέσα στους κάδους άδεια μπουκάλια και όπως συνήθως γίνονταν, θα πέταγε τα σκουπίδια έξω από την πόρτα μας. Αυτό δεν ήθελα να το επιτρέψω.

Ανοίγοντας την πόρτα είδα έναν άνθρωπο με ασιατικά χαρακτηριστικά…

-Τι κάνεις;

-Συγχωρέστε με. Ψάχνω κάτι να φάω.

-Γιατί ψάχνεις τα σκουπίδια; Έλα μέσα

-Όχι. Δεν μπορώ, είμαι βρώμικος και μυρίζω.

-Έλα, έλα μέσα, του λέω εγώ

Κατά την διάρκεια του σύντομου διαλόγου μας του εξήγησα πως έχουμε ένα δωμάτιο όπου μπορει να κάνει μπάνιο, να αλλάξει τα ρούχα του και να φάει κάτι.

Ο άνθρωπος φοβήθηκε:

-Τι θέλεις από μένα;

Του λέω:

-Δεν θέλω να πετάς τα σκουπίδια στο κατώφλι μου. Αυτό μόνο, τίποτα περισσότερο.

Αφού έφαγε, κάθησα κοντά του και αρχίσαμε να συζητάμε. Φαινόνταν ένας άνθρωπος έξυπνος. Τον ρώτησα

-Πού μένεις;


-Δηλαδή δεν έχεις που;

-Να, κάθε βράδυ καθάριζα ένα γιαπωνέζικο εστιατόριο και μου επέτρεπαν να κοιμάμαι στο υπόγειο.

-Πώς έφτασες χωρίς στέγη;

Μου διηγήθηκε πως ήταν μηχανικός και πως ήλθε από την Ιαπωνία. Στην αρχή τα πράγματα πήγαν καλά, αλλά έπειτα έμπλεξε με τα ναρκωτικά, κοκαΐνη, ηρωίνη και σύντομα τα έχασε όλα.

Του πρότεινα να μείνει σε εμάς.

-Ω, δεν μπορώ, απάντησε.


-Επειδή ψάχνω την αλήθεια!, απάντησε ο άνθρωπος

Του λέω τότε:

-Δεν πρέπει να πας πουθενά, εδώ βρίσκεται η αλήθεια!

-Όλοι έτσι λέτε, μου απάντησε. Πήγα στους Καθολικούς, στους Μορμόνους, στους Ιεχωβάδες, στους Βουδιστές. Όλοι υπόσχονται το ίδιο πράγμα αλλά δεν δίνουν τίποτα.

-Καλά, του λέω εγώ, Μείνε ωστόσο λίγο..!

Έμεινε λίγες ημέρες σε εμάς. Αρχίσαμε να συζητάμε. Έπειτα βαπτίστηκε και πήρε το όνομα του Αγίου Νικολάου Κασάτκιν, του Φωτιστή των Ιαπώνων. Τώρα επέστρεψε στην Ιαπωνία και έγινε Μοναχός σ’ ένα Ορθόδοξο Μοναστήρι. Όλα όμως άρχισαν επειδή του δώσαμε την δυνατότητα να γίνει μέρος της Αδελφότητάς μας και του επέτρεψα να μείνει μαζί μας. Είδε το Ευαγγέλιο πριν το ακούσει ή το διαβάσει.

Από το βιβλίο του Μεγαλόσχημου Μοναχού Ιωακείμ Πάρρ
«Συνομιλίες στη Ρωσική Γη»
Απόδοση στα ελληνικά π. Γεώργιος Κονισπολιάτης